'Shocking shortage' of GPs revealed
A "shocking shortage" of GPs has led to a 9% vacancy rate in surgeries - up from 6% last year, research has found.
GP magazine Pulse, which conducted the survey, said it showed the worst vacancy rate in five years - with some practices being forced to close as a result.
It collected data from 458 GPs, which showed practices have 187 positions unfilled.
Nearly one in five (18%) said it takes more a year to appoint a GP partner at their surgery, with 17% saying it takes between six and 12 months.
The average time to fill a partnership vacancy was 5.7 months.
The Tories have promised seven-day access to GP practices and same-day access for the over 75s.
Labour has pledged the return of the 48-hour appointment guarantee and a GP in every A&E department by next winter.
Both parties promise they will provide thousands more GPs if they are elected , but Pulse said that a third of GP training places for August are currently unfilled.
A recent large-scale survey by the British Medical Association (BMA) also found a third of GPs are considering retirement in the next five years.
Dr Raghunandan Vedapanakal, a GP in Whitehaven in Cumbria, said his practice has been two doctors short for two years, with 13 GPs covering 24,000 patients.
He said: "GPs are taking early retirement due to pension reforms, work stress, too much meddling by CCGs (Clinical commissioning groups) and the Government.
"There is increasing demand from an ageing population, stagnant or decreasing income, GPs emigrating and 12-hour working days."
Dr Imogen Bloor told Pulse she had to close her GP practice in Islington, north London, because it was "impossible" to recruit.
"We have tried our utmost to find a way of continuing to provide high-quality care for our patients, but we feel unable to take the practice forward," she said.
Another doctor said the only way politicians could supply more GPs would be to manipulate time.
"Unless someone has a Back to the Future DeLorean they can use to manipulate time, I don't see how they can create that many GPs in that short time," Dr Krishna Kasaraneni said.
Professor Nigel Mathers, honorary secretary of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: "These figures reinforce what the College has been saying for some time - that we have a severe shortage of family doctors across the UK and that this is now having a serious impact on our patients who are having to wait longer and longer for a GP appointment.
"We are encouraged that, in the run-up to the General Election, many of the political parties have recognised the pressures facing GPs and have pledged more GPs and more investment for general practice.
"Now we need to see these pledges backed up with firm commitments to implement robust plans to build the GP workforce, such as our joint 10-point plan, launched earlier this year with NHS England, Health Education England, and the BMA.
"We must all work together to 'recruit retain and return' as many GPs as possible to the profession in order to keep the NHS sustainable and keep our patients safe."